In August, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) relaunched ChemSpider, an online chemistry search engine the Society acquired in May. The host of ChemSpider Antony Williams explains what this resource can offer chemistry teachers and their students

Cartoon spider on a web

Source: Ori-artiste/iStock

How often do you or your students use a computer connected to the Internet to find or check chemical information? What's the chemical structure of aspirin? What is the boiling point of chlorobenzene and how soluble is it in water? Are there any chemistry articles about cholesterol? What's the molecular formula of Taxol? These questions, and many like them, can all be answered by searching ChemSpider, an online resource and community platform for chemists. 


Crawling the Web for chemistry

ChemSpider is a chemistry search engine designed to collect together and index chemical structures and their associated information published on the Internet into a single searchable repository. Free to use and available to all, the resource boasts a database of over 20 million chemical structures sourced from over 200 different data sources, including open access (eg Wikipedia, US Food and Drug Administration etc) and commercial databases.  

A quick search for a chemical structure by name returns the compound's ChemSpider record, which is enriched with links to all the original data sources. Among the features included in a chemical's record are:  

  • the chemical structure and some associated molecular properties. The chemical structure can be downloaded so that users can incorporate it into work produced in other software; 
  • the chemical's systematic names, trivial names and any 'registry numbers' for various international databases;  
  • a list of the various forms of the chemical structure in alphanumeric text form. These are used to allow computers to interact when looking for structures and, specifically, are indexed by search engines to help make the Internet searchable by chemical structure;  
  • abstracts of and links to any Wikipedia articles related to the chemical;  
  • the titles, authors and links to any articles published on the Internet about the compound;  
  • a list of measured experimental properties and safety/toxicity information and links to the original source information.
  • The search service allows users to access immediately data provided by open access links and to identify those commercial sites with useful information which might be worth paying for. 

Searching the Internet for and retrieving published chemical information is only one of the uses for the resource. ChemSpider also acts as a hub through which the chemistry community can collaborate and share information to improve the quality and accuracy of chemical data available via the web. 

Join the crowd

The quality of information on the Internet is dubious in many cases and it can be difficult to separate good from bad. Over the past two years ChemSpider has initiated a community-based approach to improve the quality of resources and data for all. This approach is known as crowd sourcing.  

The ChemSpider team and many of its users spend a lot of their efforts cleaning up data on the Internet and validating it to correct it for the community. In particular, the ChemSpider team has been working with the chemistry team involved with the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to examine the data contained within its web pages, checking for accuracy and then linking the data to ChemSpider. All users, including teachers and their students, can contribute to the resource by adding their own chemistry (structures and reactions) and by identifying and informing us of errors for the curation team to validate and correct.  

The future

The RSC's long-term goal is for ChemSpider to become the primary online platform where chemists will resource quality-assured information and collaborate with a worldwide community of scientists. As it develops the system will offer several special user interfaces and tailored data for school students, for the general public, for organic chemists and inorganic chemists, for librarians etc. So if you have a chemistry-related question, come crawl the web of ChemSpider.  

For further information on ChemSpider contact Antony Williams at the RSC.